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Bill to bag voters in gun, bait shops advances

The House bill, backed by the NRA, requires voter signup forms to be offered where hunting or fishing licenses are sold.

By ALEX LEARY
Published January 26, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - A bill requiring gun and bait shops to offer customers voter registration forms passed a House committee Wednesday after its sponsor made changes to allay concerns it could hurt the businesses.

Rep. Greg Evers, R-Baker, eliminated fines of up to $2,500 if shop clerks do not provide registration material, saying he did not want to put an "undue burden" on the shops.

He also made clear that store clerks would not help customers complete the forms or collect them - a response to elections officials who fear the bill could undo the Legislature's own efforts to tighten the flow of voter registration information.

"It's up to the individual's responsibility to mail them" to an elections office, Evers said.

But even those changes did not settle controversy over the proposal, which affects any business that sells hunting or fishing licenses, including Wal-Mart. The bill is a priority of the National Rifle Association.

Some shop owners say the mandatory requirement would be a burden while some Democrats accused Republicans of trolling for votes.

Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, tried to broaden the bill to include beauty shops and day care centers. But Evers rejected the move.

"This absolutely goes in contrast not only to this leadership's proposal of less government," said Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach. "But in fact it provides an unfunded mandate to these little business owners so that you yourself and a specialty organization can target a particular population of voters. It's evident by your reluctance to allow us to expand that."

Marion Hammer, the NRA's lobbyist, disputed that the bill would burden businesses, noting that places that sell fishing and hunting licenses already have elected to become "subagents" of state government.

"Handing a piece of paper to someone who's coming to buy a government license really shouldn't be any big deal," she said.

Hammer also dismissed the notion that it targeted GOP supporters. "When you look through North Florida," she said after the meeting, "you've got an awful lot of Democrats who are hunters and fishermen."

House Bill 125 passed the Ethics and Elections Committee by a 8-2 vote, with Joyner and Bucher in the minority. The proposal still must get approval from other committees before being considered by the full House and Senate.